September 30, 2023

Double standards: women’s rigid social expression of sexuality

photo illustration by Trey McDeane

Broadly speaking, men and women are subjected to vastly different expectations of their expressed sexuality. Societally, it is expected that men engage with multiple sexual partners throughout their lifetime. They’re hailed as ‘studs’ and immediately enter into an elite level of manhood. But, this is hardly the case for women.

In some kind of ludicrous balancing act, women seem to always be in threat of being referred to as either ‘sluts’ or ‘prudes.’ To have a similar exploration of sexuality as men—or even a more reserved selection of partners—will prompt ugly name-calling for the woman, like ‘easy’ or ‘promiscuous.’ Being open and honest about sexuality puts women in a place where insults come from all angles. On the other side of the spectrum, if it is known that a woman chooses to be selective with her sexual partners, she will likely be referred to as ‘prudish’ by her peers. Men and women who stick to these conservative and outdated ideals will be quick to criticize these women doing the exact same things as men.

But where does this double-standard stem from? Nearly all societies spanning all through history have exercised some kind of restriction over women’s sexuality. Current American culture is not at all an exception. The 60s brought along, in tandem with hippie-culture and the Free Love movement, a sexual revolution. This revolution broke down the typical hush-hush mentality that was common when sex was in discussion. But, at what point did this mentality disappear?

Obviously, there is more at stake for a woman who has sex with a man. There is the chance of pregnancy, which leaves the woman left to decide how to proceed. But, I don’t believe that that is the sole reason for women being subjected to a nasty double-standard regarding their sexuality. It’s a system of control. It is the insistence that women do not have the ability to exercise the same kind of freedom over their bodies as men do. And it is ingrained into patriarchal society to the extent that men and women both will be critical of women openly expressing their sexuality.

This topic is one that our generation is profoundly aware of. And, after talking to different students across campus, the response was unanimous: this double standard needs to be stomped out of current mentality.

DeVaughn Dobbins, junior, when asked about these double-standards, said “They piss me off so much.”

“It doesn’t matter about your sexual orientation or gender, you should be allowed to do whatever with whoever you want,” said Dobbins.

In addition to feeling in staunch opposition against these double-standards, Dobbins has experienced the male side of this phenomenon.

“Talking to other guys,” said Dobbins, “when I tell them about my experiences they ask ‘Is that all?’ and tell me that I should have taken advantage of that girl.”

What’s more, Dobbins says that these kinds of men have a skewed idea of their own sexuality when compared to a woman’s.

“They didn’t put two-and-two together that their promiscuity didn’t equal her promiscuity,” said Dobbins.

Speaking to a second student, she seemed quick to compare this double-standard in the college environment versus the high school experience.

“You definitely see that a lot more in college,” said sophomore Marissa McAllister. “Even girls slut shame other girls.”

Curious as to why she thought this culture was more prevalent in the college environment, I asked her what made it so different from high school.

“Everyone is more open,” McAllister said. “The environment allows it more. We all live together, guys and girls.”

“I’ve never seen a guy be shamed for having sex, by a guy or a girl,” said McAllister.

I spoke to another student whose opinions about double-standards and women’s sexuality appeared mostly in sync with the other students I spoke with.

“Guys can have multiple partners, but girls are questioned if they do,” said Sena B., junior.

“I think men should take more responsibility to recognize when it’s happening and speak out about it. They have more power than they realize,” said Sena.

“I think it’s time for a change. Know where you stand and recognize it,” said Sena. “Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about it.”

Change is an understatement. Women—not just American women, but women all across the globe—need to be unafraid to openly explore their sexuality. There is a long way to go before men and women will be on the same footing with this harmful double-standard, but a shift in mentality is an excellent start.


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